The popularity of electric scooters is rapidly growing as a means of fast transportation in congested traffic or for short distances such as between buildings on college campuses. An increasing number of companies are also offering shared personal mobility services by providing e-scooters.
Such a hike in the use of e-scooters has consequently brought a large number of accidents involving their users. However, the government is moving to apply less regulations, thereby raising safety concerns.
Last month, two high school students in Incheon were riding on a single e-scooter together when they crashed into a taxi at an intersection, killing one of them. According to the police investigation, they were unlicensed and not wearing any safety equipment.
A student at Myongji University was also found injured on the roadside inside the school campus in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province, last month, after riding an e-scooter. He was transferred to hospital but later died.
Safety is not an issue only for the users but also for pedestrians and drivers of motor vehicles.
"I have almost been hit several times by people speeding on e-scooters around my college or parks along the Han River," said Ahn Jung-eui, a college student in Mapo District, Seoul. "Sometimes, I see two people riding on one vehicle, something that looks terribly dangerous."
According to data from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and the Korea Transportation Safety Authority, the number of accidents related to such personal mobility devices has increased 3.8 times over three years from 117 in 2017 to 447 in 2019.
During the same period, the number of deaths doubled from four to eight, while the number of injuries jumped from 124 to 473.
The increasing number of accidents involving e-scooters is attributable not only to their growing use but also the fact that users do not properly follow safety rules, while regulation appears insufficient. However, concern regarding the latter seems to have been ignored as in May the National Assembly revised relevant laws to ease these regulations in an effort to boost the ride-sharing services industry mostly run by start-ups.
Under the current law, e-scooters have been classified as a type of motorbike; so those having a motorbike or other vehicle license were allowed to use them, with the age limit being 16 and over.
But under revisions to this law, which will take effect Dec. 10, e-scooters will be classified as a type of bicycle, allowing people to ride them on cycling paths, and without the need for a driver's license. The age limit will also be lowered to 13, meaning even middle school students will be allowed to ride them. However, riding the scooters on sidewalks will still be illegal.
It has been mandatory for e-scooter riders to wear a helmet, with violators of the law facing a 20,000 won ($18) fine, but most users do not abide by the regulation. Under the new law, there will be no penalty for not wearing a helmet or any other protective gear.
These changes are already causing concerns.
"I've already had many instances where e-scooters pop up out of nowhere and narrowly miss hitting me, and sometimes they drive the wrong way on the street," a parents' online community user wrote. "Now middle and high school students can ride them. They don't have a driver's license and don't know traffic regulations applied to vehicles. I'm worried that the chances of accidents involving students will increase."
"There are many e-scooters with illegal accelerators, and people often ride them on sidewalks, which is illegal. And there are many cases where two people ride on one vehicle," said Lee Jae-young, a 34-year-old office worker in Seodaemun District in Seoul. "Whether it is small or serious, many accidents occur frequently under the current law. In this regard, the government's move to ease regulations is nothing but a threat to the safety of residents."
A dozen petitions have been posted on the Cheong Wa Dae public fora website opposing the eased regulations, with each of them gaining thousands of signatures.
Some e-scooter users complain that they ride on sidewalks because the road conditions here are too unsafe for them.
"I also do not want to hurt pedestrians, so I try to position myself at the furthest side of the lane as possible, but it's not always easy," said a 32-year-old e-scooter user living in Nowon District in Seoul, who wished to be identified only by her surname Suh. "It's not even a car-only road, but I feel upset whenever cars pass by honking their horns as if I am breaking the law, while I am actually abiding by the law."
In this situation, some lawmakers have already proposed revisions to again toughen the rules on e-scooters. Rep. Kim Kyung-hyup of the Democratic Party of Korea proposed an amendment to punish those who illegally remodel scooters to increase their speed, while Rep. Kim Yea-ji of the People Power Party's revision is aimed at punishing e-scooter riders who don't wear helmets.
An official in the electric kickboard industry said a lot of work is required, such as ensuring e-scooter users wear helmets and that the operators of scooter-sharing manage their services with proper safety rules.
"It is necessary to harmonize pedestrians, car drivers, and e-scooter users through a grand social agreement rather than unconditional regulation," he said.
Concerns over e-scooters are not isolated to Korea as their safety has become an issue everywhere. Against this backdrop, a growing number of countries have introduced regulations governing their use, particularly in Europe and the United States.
France has already introduced a fine of 135 euros for users who endanger pedestrians, and additional measures have been imposed to deal with the improper parking of scooters. The Swedish authorities have also set out guidelines for the use of scooters.
In 2019, the Atlanta City council in the U.S. passed legislation that barred e-scooter users from riding and parking them between 9 p.m. and 4 a.m., and established a permit system for operators.
Does your city have these scooters on the street, Omona? I can't remember the last time I saw them. Bird has seen a reported 90% user decline in my city. And in March Lime's CEO announced they were pausing services in all markets except South Korea.
source: The Korea Times